Remote Collaboration
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22 Essential Remote-Work Tools for Your Business

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Remote Collaboration
Westend61 / Getty Images CC

Remote Collaboration

Businesses everywhere are adding remote workers even without being forced by a crisis to have an entire staff working from home — and that means there are plenty of online collaboration tools to help make remote operations productive and successful. From large meetings to production tracking, nearly everything can be done remotely, and some software even has multiple uses at low prices. Here's a closer look at some essential tools.

Related: 40 Essential Tax Tips for Small-Business Owners

Video Conferencing
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Video Conferencing

There are many choices these days for video and audio conferencing, and some allow hundreds or even thousands of people on a call — even at very low cost.

GoToMeeting
Host video or audio meetings from a desk, conference room, or remote location via a Mac, a PC, or even a smartphone. Pricing: For $16 a month, you can host as many as 250 workers on a call.

Zoom
Zoom's platform allows up to 1,000 video conference participants and 10,000 viewers. Video conferencing with Zoom comes with the benefit of being able to record meetings, create searchable transcripts, and screen share among meeting participants. Pricing: Basic plans accommodating up to 100 meeting participants are free. For $20 monthly, you can host up to 500. In Cheapism testing, Zoom was more reliable than Google Hangouts for group video meetings.

FreeConferenceCall.com
A solid no-cost option, FreeConferenceCall.com lets users set up accounts instantly using just an email and password. Account holders are given a dial-in number and access code to host meetings. Video meeting participants can screen share, and audio meetings can include as many as 1,000 callers. Be warned that a Federal Communications Commission ruling may soon change how this service runs — but for now it truly is free.

Small Group Video Calls
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Small Group Video Calls

For smaller groups, there are a variety of free options for video calls.

Skype
With the Skype video chatting app, you can arrange a video call for as many as 50 participants for free on a phone, tablet, or computer. Using the screen-sharing feature, you can present PowerPoint slides and video recordings to remote workers.

Facebook Messenger
Although Facebook may not be the first platform that springs to mind for video calls, Messenger is free as long as you're using Wi-Fi; standard data charges apply otherwise. Just bear in mind that, while Facebook has been working to make this platform more secure, there has been criticism about its lack of privacy and protection of conversations.

WhatsApp
While WhatsApp may be most famous for free international messaging and voice calling, it, too, offers a free video call feature. It allows up to four participants for free.

Slack
Slack

Group Chat

There's nothing like being able to walk over to someone's desk to ask a question. But conversations among colleagues can happen remotely, too.

Slack
One of the best-known and widely used workplace chat platforms, Slack essentially replaces interoffice emails. Conversations are conveniently organized by topic in dedicated spaces called channels. You can also talk with colleagues via voice or video calls, and share everything from PDFs and images to audio and video. Pricing: Entry-level plans are free, while a standard plan aimed at small- and medium-size businesses starts at $7 monthly.

Google Hangouts Chat
Like Slack, G Suite's Google Hangouts Chat allows for direct messaging between coworkers, as well as group conversations. In Chat, you can create threaded conversations as well as specific virtual rooms dedicated to a particular project. Pricing: Chat is offered to G Suite customers for no additional cost. The basic G Suite price is $6 per user, per month; the business plan starts at $12.

Multiple-Use Platforms
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Team Communication and Collaboration

Some platforms offer multiple communication and collaboration tools in one — conferencing, chatting, and file sharing.

Microsoft Teams
This well-known platform allows remote coworkers to participate in group chats, video conferences for teams of 10 to 10,000, and sharing and editing of everything from Word docs to PowerPoint and Excel files in real time. Pricing: There's a free version with unlimited chat, and real-time collaboration. For meetings and calls, it's $20 per user, per month.

G Suite
Google competes with Microsoft here, as in everything. Connect with colleagues wherever they are; share, access, and collaborate on documents and files; use Google Hangouts to chat, with video and voice conferencing for meetings; and share calendars with team members for scheduling. Pricing: Starting at $8 per user, per month for the basic plan; the business plan, with a search function you're likely to need, starts at $16.

Learning with Trello
Learning with Trello by Bernard Goldbach (CC BY)

Project Management

Trello
Trello offers a simple, visual system for organizing team projects, tasks, or other deliverables. Users create lists of to-do items with “cards” where team members can comment, upload files, create checklists, add due dates, and more while moving cards from one stack to another as a project progresses. Pricing: Trello offers basic plans for free; business-level pricing is $10 per month to allow bigger attachments, more boards, more views, and custom fields.

Asana
This is another popular project management platform that allows for mapping out the steps associated with projects and running queries to see how work is progressing. Pricing: A basic plan for individuals or new teams is free; premium-level access is $11 per user, per month for a timeline, custom fields, and more.

Basecamp
Another notable contender focused on overall organization, Basecamp creates project spaces that contain everything related to that effort — all discussions, documents, files, tasks, and key dates and deadlines. There's also a group chat feature. Pricing: A flat $99 monthly for its business-level platform.

Screenleap
Screenleap by Frank Hamm (CC BY-NC-ND)

Desktop Sharing and Screen Sharing

TeamViewer
TeamViewer is one of the top-rated programs for accessing another worker's computer remotely, whether to access files or programs, or for troubleshooting and repairs. Using TeamViewer you can connect remotely to a worker's desktop or even a mobile device. Pricing: A single business license allows one user to initiate device connections one session at a time for $49 monthly.

ScreenLeap
ScreenLeap requires a one-time software installation, then allows sharing with the click of a button that lets remote viewers point to things on your screen. Pricing: An entry-level plan of 40 minutes per day for up to eight viewers is free. A basic plan with up to eight hours of sharing per day starts at $15 monthly.

Time Tracking
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Time Tracking

When employees are no longer punching a time clock as they walk in the door, you need online solutions to track time worked.

Time Doctor
Employers can track the productivity of remote workers with software that monitors total time worked by every person on a team and gives breakdowns of how much time is spent on specific projects, clients, or tasks. Pricing: Starts at $10 per user, per month.

Toggl
In addition to tracking time, you can use Toggl to set up tracking reminders for team members and conduct time audits. Toggl can also help small businesses operating remotely with such things as project planning, staffing, and team allocation — but be warned that Toggl doesn't have automatic time capture, which means workers have to remember to turn it on and label each task, and there might be a learning curve. Pricing: Starts at $9 per user, per month.

Invoicing
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Invoicing

Although these platforms aren't exclusively for remote operations, they can be helpful for running a small business from literally anywhere.

FreshBooks
FreshBooks does everything from creating invoices to tracking expenses and time and allows for collaborating with team members on projects via phone as well as web, and with significantly more features in more languages. Pricing: Starts at $7.50 for businesses with up to five billable clients.

InvoiceSherpa
InvoiceSherpa is for bigger businesses to automate accounts payable and receivable processes while creating custom invoices for clients and establishing an online portal where they can pay for services remotely. Pricing: Starts at $49 per month for a sole proprietor and $99 per month for a small business.

GIThub
GIThub by Jay Cross (CC BY)

Remote Software Development

A specialized need — hosting and reviewing code and managing the software building process — has a specialized tool.

GitHub
Project boards are right alongside code, and remote users can engage in conversations and code reviews with precisely controlled levels of access. Pricing: Entry-level use is free, while pro use is $7 per month.

File Sharing and Storage Tools
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File Sharing and Storage

Sharing files among a remote team can be challenging, particularly if the files are large and cannot be emailed. There are solutions:

Dropbox Business
Dropbox Business has been a leader in making file sharing easier, with notably fast, secure storage and the ability to create team folders. Pricing: Starts at $12.50 monthly.

Google Drive
Already using G Suite tools? Google's storage lets teams share, store, and access files from a phone or a desktop — not syncing as quickly as Dropbox, but heavy users of G Suite tools will appreciate the integration. Pricing: Starts at around $8 per month, per user.